Few institutions bear the imprint of a single man, as does Starr Commonwealth, a residential treatment facility for troubled youth. And it is Floyd Starr’s famous mantra, “there is no such thing as a bad boy,” that continues to shape the commonwealth to this day.
Floyd Starr was born in 1883. He distinguished himself early in youth as an orator, associated with the progressive social movements of his day, Starr inveighed a sense of wisdom, clarity, and greatness to those that he met.
This was the review given by most people who met him, including many of the boys he brought to his Commonwealth, located 3 miles north and west of the city of Albion. It also should be noted that as a graduate of Albion College, Floyd Starr was a product of what so many generations of visionaries, reformers, and dreamers worked to build up in Albion – namely an institution that attracted and turned out people who were well prepared to impact their communities and the world.
Founding of the Albion Campus
The story of the Albion campus begins in 1913 when Starr selected land, and constructed the first building, Gladsome Cottage, with the support of his family and close friends including John Harvey Kellogg. This same year he had his first and only child, Margaret Louise Starr, born by his college sweetheart, Harriet Armstrong.
During the early years of the Commonwealth, money was tight, but somehow Starr managed to hold the Commonwealth together. Gladsome Cottage was joined by other buildings, the faculty slowly grew, and increasing numbers of youths were served. While successful professionally, Starr’s personal life saw signs of strain. In 1918 his wife Harriet asked for a divorce, which he complied with. This would alter both Starr and the future of his Commonwealth, work that he would devote his life to over the next several decades.
Candler Hall, 1957
Emily Clark Building, 1917
Emily Clark Building, 1936
Kent Center, 1966
Klare Building, 1967
Mary Katherine Building, 1963
Webster Hall, 1934
Faith Made Visible
In his enigmatic history of Starr, Faith Made Visible, Albion historian and Albion College professor Keith Fennimore, demonstrates a duality that shaped the life of Starr and his Commonwealth. For every problem and challenge, there seemed to be an opportunity or a solution. Several buildings on campus were lost to fire, or deemed inadequate and removed, but for each of these the beneficence of some outside patron allowed for new facilities to be built. During the time of the Great Depression resources were scarce for Starr and people all over the country, but through cooperation with city residents, it was assured that there was enough food for boys to eat.
Another theme of Fennimore’s was Starr’s uncanny ability to attract and draw in famous and well recognized people of his day, to visit the Commonwealth, to offer their services, or to contribute to his cause. Among these included Nobel prize winning poet Rabindranath Tagore, author Carl Sandburg, minister Norman Peale, opera singer Dorothy Maynor, popular speaker Helen Keller, and many others.
Starr was appointed to the Michigan Youth Commission by Governor G. Mennen Williams in 1949. In 1951 he received the Dale Carnegie International Award in the field of Human Relations. One June evening in 1963 he was given a Gala Appreciation banquet by the Albion Chamber of Commerce, and four years later he was an honored guest at Albion College, where he received a special citation.
New Leadership is Found
Already well advanced in his years, and having spent most of his life the building his Commonwealth, in 1967 Starr passed leadership on to another man, Larry Brendtro, the second president of Starr Commonwealth. Starr continued to serve on the board, and lived in Candler Hall, built for him on campus, but became less involved in day to day affairs.
Starr remained dedicated to his work, playing a valuable role until his death. He suffered a fall that broke his pelvic bone and brought with it other complications. On August 27, 1980, Starr died in his sleep. A few days later a small circle of family and friends gathered on the hillside where he was laid to rest. A service for people from the Commonwealth was had on September 7, and on September 14 an overflow population filled the Chapel in the Woods.
Perhaps the greatest testimony to Starr’s work is how the institution has continued to persist since his death. Now with campuses in Albion, Battle Creek, Detroit, Van Wert (Ohio), and Columbus, Starr’s mission has been expanded to serve all children, boys and girls, and their families.